If you’re trying to book a campsite at an Ontario provincial park this summer, it may feel like a daunting task.
The online booking system has been slammed this month with veteran campers and first-timers trying to get a site.
Kevin Callan, a.k.a The Happy Camper, is a Peterborough-area bestselling author and canoe enthusiast and tells Global News the best course of action could be to wait a little longer for that site to open up.
“It’s insane, absolutely insane right now,” he said. “What’s happening, if you wait, a lot of people will be cancelling. So what are a lot of people are doing is booking up sites and cancelling later. So, in theory, you might have a better chance later on than right now.”
Callan says there are tricks to finding a site, including having multiple people on computers checking sites and as soon as you get your site, you cancel all the others, much like using sites to find concert tickets.
Callan suggests going further north to find a spot, but also notes that it’s getting busier up north as well.
He points to history as to why this is suddenly happening.
“It’s happening in the history of time, where there’s a world war or a recession, people want to go out into the woods to cure their mind. It’s cheap and simple and there’s nowhere else to go, but mainly they’re going out to just cure themselves.”
Callan says those booking sites at provincial parks are allowed to have a site for 23 days.
He also notes some sites are popping up on websites such as Kijiji at a marked-up price.
“You’ll hold it for 23 days and only go there whenever you want to go. So then they say the campground is full and on some days there are empty campsites and that’s just wrong. That’s exactly what happens when people buy up several concert tickets and make a fortune.”
Last month, Ontario Parks reported bookings made between Jan. 1 and Feb. 5 had nearly doubled over the same time in 2020.
And on March 2, in a tweet, Ontario Parks stated it had received an overwhelming number of users on the reservation system at one time and its website and call centre saw the highest volumes ever on any given day on March 1.
Ontario Parks has also been running a pilot program since 2020 to charge a flat fee for backcountry camping at two of its parks.
It costs $40.75 per night to camp at Massasauga Provincial Park near Parry Sound, and $32.50 per night at Temagami River Provincial Park, north of North Bay, up from the previous fee of $9 a night per person.
The flat fee applies to anyone camping, whether it’s a single person or a larger group.
“If you’re going solo, you’re paying like $40 a night, and if you’re going in a group of nine, it’s $40 for the group. It’s way too expensive. That’s four times what it would’ve cost you,” Callan said.
“It really rips off the solo paddler and the couples that are going. A lot of backcountry paddlers are that. 48 per cent of the people going into Temagami are by themselves or are two people.”
Callan, who says he spends at least 60 nights per year in a tent, tells Global News that 2020 saw an influx of new campers in parks because travel restrictions forced residents to explore their own backyards and province.
“It’s fantastic that they want to go out and explore nature. It will ramp down, though. After COVID, they will go do what they used to do. But we will have some new people who are ethical and educated on what they will do. I think this is all good.”
Global News has contacted the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks and will update this story when we receive its reply.